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William Wordsworth

Helen Darbishire and Ernest De Selincourt (eds), The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth, Vol. 4: Evening Voluntaries; Itinerary Poems of 1833; Poems of Sentiment and Reflection; Sonnets Dedicated to Liberty and Order; Miscellaneous Poems; Inscriptions; Selections From Chaucer; Poems Referring to the Period of Old Age; Epitaphs and Elegiac Pieces; Ode-Intimations of Immortality (Second Edition)

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[Composed 1798.—Published 1798.]

  • 1"Why, William, on that old grey stone,
  • 2Thus for the length of half a day,
  • 3Why, William, sit you thus alone,
  • 4And dream your time away?
  • 5"Where are your books?—that light bequeathed
  • 6To Beings else forlorn and blind!
  • 7Up! up! and drink the spirit breathed
  • 8From dead men to their kind.
  • 9"You look round on your Mother Earth,
  • 10As if she for no purpose bore you;
  • 11As if you were her first-born birth,
  • 12And none had lived before you!"
  • 13One morning thus, by Esthwaite lake,
  • 14When life was sweet, I knew not why,
  • Editor’s Note15To me my good friend Matthew spake,
  • 16And thus I made reply:
  • 17"The eye—it cannot choose but see;
  • 18We cannot bid the ear be still;
  • 19Our bodies feel, where'er they be,
  • 20Against or with our will.
  • 21"Nor less I deem that there are Powers
  • 22Which of themselves our minds impress;
  • 23That we can feed this mind of ours
  • 24In a wise passiveness.
  • 25"Think you, 'mid all this mighty sum
  • 26Of things for ever speaking,
  • 27That nothing of itself will come,
  • 28But we must still be seeking?
  • 29"—Then ask not wherefore, here, alone,
  • 30Conversing as I may,
  • 31I sit upon this old grey stone,
  • 32And dream my time away."

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Editor’s Note
p. 56. I. Expostulation and Reply: "This poem is a favourite among the Quakers, as I have learnt on many occasions. It was composed in front of the house at Alfoxden in the spring of 1798." —I. F.
Hutchinson points out that the friend alluded to in the Advertisement to L.B. 1798 [the two poems "arose out of a conversation with a friend who was somewhat unreasonably attached to modern books of Moral Philosophy"] was Hazlitt, who visited W. at Alfoxden in May–June 1798. Hazlitt was at the time busy over his Essay on the Principles of Human Action, and later, in his essay On my First Acquaintance with Poets, he relates that one evening "I got into a metaphysical argument with W. while Coleridge was explaining the different notes of the nightingale to his sister, in which we neither of us succeeded in making ourselves perfectly clear and intelligible".
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